There are many great things to do in Manchester, but with such a wide array on offer we thought we might round-up 20 for your perusal, so you can get cracking on delving deeper into this great city. Whether it's catching legendary live music, having a history lesson at one of Manchester's museums, visiting the world's oldest public library, flicking through stacks of vinyl or even petting a pig or two, there really are some great things to do. Explore and enjoy.
Things to do in Manchester
There was a project a few years ago called Raising The Game, which followed some research suggesting that tourists came to Manchester for shopping, sport and nightlife, but not for art galleries. So, raise its game is just what Manchester did, and now the city can proudly boast exhibitions by big name artists as well as improved facilities in established galleries, innovative support from the likes of the brilliant Creative Tourist (which grew out of Raising The Game) and soon a brand new wing to the Whitworth Art Gallery, which will make the most of the lovely park in which it sits. Whether your interest lies in the contemporary, the experimental, the challenging or the traditional, there's a gallery for you.
Independent record stores like Vinyl Exchange, Eastern Bloc and Piccadilly Records have been supplying Mancunians with good tunes for years. And they deserve our appreciation, especially considering they stood firm in the face of the megastore, and online threats to physical music purchases. There are also some gems outside the city centre. A quick trip to Burnage and you’ll find Sifters, immortalised (well, mentioned) in the Oasis song 'Shakermaker' whilst over the way in Chorlton, Kingbee Records offers an Aladdin’s cave of rare jewels in amongst the Wet Wet Wet and Meatloaf albums nobody wants anymore. In fact some have been known to regularly visit Kingbee all the way from from New York (with an empty suitcase), so good is the collection there.
It's not only Christmas that makes you feel festive in Manchester. There are more festivals in this city than there are in a hilltop Spanish village and they cover a dizzying range of activities throughout the year. Or every two years in the case of the big daddy, Manchester International Festival, which welcomes 21 days of world premieres by major artists like Bjork, Marina Abramovic, Tino Seghal and Rufus Wainwright, plus performers like Kenneth Branagh, Willem Dafoe, The xx and Abida Parveen. Annually, the Manchester Jazz Festival and the Manchester Literature Festival are hugely entertaining and if that's not enough for you, there are celebrations of history, food and drink, beer and cider... the list goes on and on.
Get ready for your close up
Like many major cities, Manchester has been used as a location for films and TV for decades. From 'Hell Is A City' and 'A Taste Of Honey' through to 'Pride and Prejudice', Queer As Folk' and, more recently, 'The Iron Lady' and 'Sherlock Holmes', much fun can be had spotting some of the famous locations in and around the city. Manchester Town Hall has long stood in for the Houses of Parliament; Canal Street is about to be famous all over again with 'Cucumber', a saucy new drama from Russell T Davies, and when Mr Darcy emerged from the water and a nation fell in love with Colin Firth, that was Lyme Hall in the background.
Have a brew
Coffee has had its fair share of the limelight in recent years. In Manchester, though, tea is king again. Tea rooms are springing up all over the place, making tea trendy and putting the joy back into baked cakes (it's amazing how a TV cooking show can influence things). At the top of the pot is Teacup Kitchen in the Northern Quarter where tea is taken so seriously that some leaves come with a timer so that you know the exact optimum flavour point. Established by Mr Scruff, who's famously fond of a good brew, the place proved so popular - and the queues so big - that it wasn't long before others dusted off the china, whipped up the clotted cream and put the kettle on.
Take The Quays to the city
Some very clever people decided a long time ago that the area where Salford and Trafford come together - the abandoned quays which once formed a busy dockland - would make an ideal leisure destination. So now we have a wonderful waterside location just ten minutes from the city centre, where The Lowry, Imperial War Museum North, MediaCityUK, Granada TV, Old Trafford Stadium and Lancashire County Cricket Club are all within walking distance of each other. There's also shopping, a cinema, great restaurants and plenty of places to relax, so culture lovers, sport fans and shopaholics all get a look in. A trip at night, when the lights of the buildings bob and bounce in the water, is quite spectacular.
In the extensive collection of the Manchester Museum lies a tomb-like exhibition of ancient Egyptian artefacts - over 16,000 of them in fact. Manchester Museum has 20 human mummies originating from Luxor and Thebes, all of which were scanned in 2012 using the most up-to-date technology. To describe them as fascinating is an understatement, not only to marvel at as they lie in situ, but in the stories behind them. Take Asru, who died in Thebes around 750 BC. Not a queen - not even particularly grand - she nonetheless has two coffins, and the CT scan revealed that, whilst she had undergone the common practice of brain removal prior to mummification, the usual method of extraction via the nose had been rejected in favour of something more unusual. Asru's brain was removed via the eye sockets. Why? Who knows. Intriguing stuff.
Tow the line
When the 58km long Manchester Ship Canal opened in January 1894 at the whopping cost of £15million (over £1.5 billion in modern money), it was the largest river canal in the world, enabling Manchester to become an important port despite being 40km inland. Now, the many waterways of Manchester are a lovely way to while away the afternoon. Continuing efforts to make the waterways more of a feature have meant that areas around them such as Castlefield and The Quays have been spruced up. Mersey Ferries offer ship canal cruises and there are always narrow boats weaving their way through the city. So whether you want to journey through the locks yourself or just sit back with a glass of wine and watch other people do it, Manchester's canals matter once again.
Manchester’s Gay Village is on the up again after years of suffering from over exposure. Surely LGBT people should be happy about the fact that the place is now a major tourist attraction? Well, when bars describe themselves as ‘mixed’ it just means that they used to be gay, it’s never the other way around, so there’s a sense that the time has come to do a bit of re-claiming. The place has been smartened up (there are welcoming hanging baskets everywhere) and a campaign set up by the Village Business Association - ‘Our Gay Village’ - is making sure that the Village once again becomes a safe place for LGBT people, their friends and families, rather than then the free-for-all of recent times.
Remember from where you came
The People’s History Museum is a reminder of more politically motivated times, when protests meant more than pressing the 'like' button on a Facebook group. The museum is a lesson in history, a celebration and a call to action, providing a fascinating insight into the lives of working people in the UK and how they have shaped how we live now. An essential trip to the People’s History Museum makes it very clear that politics IS people. A must-see venue.
From retro fashions to vintage furniture, the desire to become our parents (or even grandparents, given the fondness for tweed and beards right now) seems to never have been stronger. Manchester is well catered for when it comes to vintage clothes, with Afflecks Palace nothing short of an institution and leading the pack for affordable second-hand chic. Other examples like Oxfam Originals and the Northern Quarter’s Retro Rehab are worth a look too. Of course, it’s not just clothing that’s getting the retro makeover, with the rise of the tearoom reflecting the twee but totally understandable desire for cake stands, china and Victoria sponge, whilst vinyl record stores continue to do a roaring trade. So, if you really want to get hip, daddyo, better get vintage.
It’s hard to classify Gorilla – it’s a gin parlour, a performance venue, a club and more. It also sells great food, and offers one of the best brunches in the city centre. After a night on the tiles, what could be better than a delicious helping of late morning/early afternoon eggs benedict or American style waffles? Sundays tempt you with roast lunches too - including a cracking veggie option - and you can also get a healthy granola brunch too if that takes your fancy. Of course there are great brunches elsewhere in the city too – Molly House does a good one – but Gorilla is also a lovely place to be, the staff treat you like an old friend, and the mushrooms are the best in the city.
Eat ooh la la
The French at The Midland has undergone quite a transformation. Not only has this long established restaurant been a firm favourite amongst the fine diners of the city, it has been a flagship location within a favourite hotel, giving it extra clout. So it was a brave decision to completely revamp it, bring in a star chef in Simon Rogan and turn the menu into something quite different. Now, the only choice available to you as a diner is whether to have the six or 10 course option. Rogan has created a menu that offers a journey through delicate flavours, exciting the taste buds at every stage with exquisitely crafted courses which complement each other to perfection.
Get on down to...
Chinatown in Manchester is reputedly the largest in Europe, its collection of restaurants, bakeries, businesses and supermarkets concentrated across a fair few blocks in the city centre. It's all marked by a beautiful Chinese gate announcing the area's entrance. At any time of year, Chinatown is a great place to visit, but the last few years have seen Chinese New Year become a much bigger part of the city’s cultural celebrations, extending the reach of Chinatown across the city centre. As a collection of excellent places to eat and shop, it’s not to be missed and, whilst there are of course other opportunities to experience Chinese culture, the selection on offer here is hard to beat.
Literally. We’re not talking about doing something secretive or covert. We literally mean, go underneath Manchester’s centre through myriad tunnels and subterranean canalways in what's a fascinating glimpse into the bowels of the city. Ostensibly you’re walking in the cavernous and sometimes cramped space where thousands sheltered during the Manchester Blitz of World War 2. Most of it is long since disused and closed up, imposingly dark, dank and miserable. Tours begin with spooky tales of what happened under the ground beneath our feet, and of what was going on above ground which made these tunnel constructions necessary in the first place. Warnings about not wandering off alone abound, just in case you get lost and never again see the light of day...
No, not by the famous Manchester rain, though as the UK’s ninth wettest city, there’ll be plenty of that too. Yet another welcome legacy of the Commonwealth Games, Manchester’s Aquatics Centre close to the University is a modern shrine to swimming which is open to the public all year round. It also hosts major water based sporting events. There’s an enormous 50m pool, a diving pool, gym facilities and a health suite. Lessons are available too so you can learn how to become the next Tom Daley if you think you can handle those imposing diving boards. But it’s also a place for splashy splashy fun, with a waterslide to keep kids of all ages happy.
Where would Manchester be without football? It’s the first thing anyone comments on anywhere in the world when you tell them your city of origin. But with two major teams (arch rivals and with armies of fans), plus the new National Football Museum opening in the city centre, it's little surprise to hear that football is a huge attraction for local people, as well as visitors to the city. Both United and City's grounds have tours and behind the scenes opportunities, and you could easily spend your entire monthly wage in their shops. For those with a more general interest in the sport, the National Football Museum is a great opportunity to indulge your passion in a somewhat less tribal manner.
Pet a pig
The convenience of city living can cut you off from the pleasures of the countryside. But fret not. When you suddenly get that urge to stroke a sheep, gaze at a goat or pet a pig, a number of petting farms are within easy reach. Perfect entertainment for a family afternoon out, Wythenshawe Community Farm offers such a place, giving children the opportunity to have wide-eyed fun whilst subtly finding out about traditional farming methods and where their meat comes from. It’s all free too and, as it’s set in a lovely park and there’s a nearby playground, it really is a wonderful place to visit with little'uns.
Like books? The oldest surviving public library in the English speaking world is Chetham's in Manchester, a quite extraordinary place of hallowed ancient books and the dark wood rooms and corridors in which they rest. Chetham's isn’t the only impressive library in Manchester though, with the very grand Central Library having recently re-opened after years of restoration, and the astonishing John Rylands Library on Deansgate making up the main triumvirate. But don’t miss out on a visit to the wonderful Portico Library, a gem hidden above a pub that could be so easily missed.
It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of music on Manchester. The list of bands, singers, musicans and producers who have sprung from the city and its locale goes on and on. But Manchester is nothing if not open minded, so there’s room for all on the live music circuit - a circuit well-served by some fantastic venues. From the Phones 4u Arena - a large scale venue that seats thousands and hosts the likes of Dolly Parton and Nine Inch Nails - to mid-size venues (The Lowry, the O2 Apollo and The Ritz) and intimate spaces for just a few hundred (Gorilla, Deaf Institute and loads more), there are plenty on offer. New kid on the block is Albert Hall, a stunning new addition to the live music scene, already attracting great line ups since MIF premiered work by Goldfrapp, Mogwai and others there back in 2013.